Shigisan’s Tiger Temple
Chogosonshi-ji is a temple affiliated to Shingon Buddhism, located on Mount Shigi in Heguri city, in Nara prefecture. Place of worship for the deity Bishamonten, the vast complex is also known under the names Shigisan and Tiger temple. The course leading to the mountain top is lined up with lanterns and several pavilions, some of which used as inns for travelers looking for a spiritual break.
Mount Shigi’s temple, nicknamed "Shigisan" in relation to its location, was founded by Prince Shotoku (574 – 622). It is dedicated to Bishamonten, one of the seven lucky gods in Japan, protector of warriors, of the Buddhist law and god of prosperity. The current name "Chogosonshi-ji" was granted by emperor Daigo (885 - 930), to thank Shigisan and its monk Myoren who prayed Bishamonten for his health recovery.
A spiritual immersion in the mountain
Chogosonshi-ji’s complex shelters a dozen of Buddhist temples as well as numerous smaller Shinto shrines, and spreads from the foot of Mount Shigi to its top, at 437 meters above sea level. From the main pavilion Bishamonten-do's plazza, a beautiful unobstructed panorama unfolds on the valley below and on the surrounding verdant mounts. Among the noteworthy buildings and constructions are :
- Numerous statues of tigers, the symbol of the temple;
- A beautiful Tahoto Pagoda;
- The Treasure Hall Reiho-kan, sheltering painted scrolls designated National Treasure of Japan; and,
- Kuhatsugoho pavilion with its small torii ⛩️ alley, a bit away from the center of the complex.
The hike up to Mount Shigi’s top is pleasant and not very tiring. It is however possible to rest along the cobbled alleys on small benches, and there are even ashtrays along the way! During daytime, it is not unusual to encounter monks, who live here permanently, while they perform Buddhist rituals. The mystical atmosphere deeply permeates this place, little known from foreign tourists compared to its neighboring and popular counterpart Mount Koya.
Chogosonshi-ji’s pervasive stone lanterns 🏮 guide worshippers day and night. The nightly visit of Shigisan can even be considered more interesting than the daytime’s. The paths winding in the sacred mountain become silent as they are immersed in the dark, offering the experience of a true spiritual retreat in the quietness.
Shigisan Shukubo : spend the night at the temple like a monk
In Mount Shigi, three temples offer to accommodate travelers:
- Jyofuku-in; and,
At noon, these establishments receive visitors for lunch. At night, they become inns for those who would like to experience a night at the temple.
Gyokuzo-in can host up to several hundred of persons. Despite this impressive number, the spiritual charm of the temple still operates as long as visitors respect the place’s propriety. The rooms are rather large, clean and arranged with a traditional tatami mats flooring. In winter, they are fitted with a kotatsu, the heated table covered with a thick blanket, and in summer they benefit from air conditioning. The temple owns its public baths for leisure and hygiene.
Gyokuzo-in’s real interest lies in the early morning ceremony performed by the head monk. This ceremony called Gomagyo is a Buddhist ritual of purification by fire 🔥 and fulfilling wishes. The early-morning attendees sit around the altar with the monks to earnestly listen to the mesmerizing prayers chanted out loud in rhythm, as the flames are growing.
Lastly, after leaving Mount Shigi and before returning to the urban landscapes of the cities, we recommend adventurers to try bungee jumping from Kaiun Bridge